A Village Concept:
An Alternative Development Proposal for the
Montreat Conference Center
by members of the Montreat community
The Montreat Conference Center (MRA) has proposed a large new structure for accommodation and meeting space on the property where Galax House, Chestnut Lodge, and the Lord Apartments now sit. Their proposal includes the demolition of these three existing lodges, and also 59 of the existing trees on the property (8 trees would be retained).
Some members of the community have proposed an alternative approach. We are in discussion with the Conference Center to set out these ideas in detail. This “village concept” includes the preservation and restoration of the two most historic lodges, adding onto the back of Galax, and building a fourth lodge next to Galax.
The placement of these four lodges would create a large green space between them. This space would be well landscaped, designed to encourage interaction and small meetings through benches and flexible seating. Accessible, attractive paths would facilitate easy travel between the lodges. Porches on all four lodges would face inward to overlook the common green space. The four lodges (plus Reynolds and Hickory Lodges, next door) would together have the feel of a village.
On the feasibility of restoring the existing lodges, the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County (PSABC) said:
"While no project is straightforward, PSABC is confident that the Lord Apartments and Chestnut Lodge could be rehabilitated without undue burden to the MRA.... Chestnut Lodge and the Lord Apartments represent an irreplaceable connection to the beginnings of Montreat. The successful rehabilitation, in addition to sensitive infill, would constitute an investment in the future of Montreat."
Site Plan Sketch: Village Concept
Preserve Historic Lodges: Chestnut Lodge and the Lord Apartments -- the oldest home in Montreat – would be fully restored. Adding private half or full baths would be possible in many of the rooms.
Expand Galax: A two-story addition onto the West side and back of Galax would provide nine bedrooms with private bathrooms, and an expanded dining room would accommodate more guests. Several of these rooms could be rented individually, separate from the rest of Galax. A large meeting room at the back could be accessible from any of the lodges.
New Lodge: This would include ten bedrooms with private baths; kitchen and ample meeting rooms. It would be fully ADA accessible, with 3 tiers (built into the slope) and porches overlooking front and back.
Connecting green space: Newly-landscaped green space would be close to 17,000 sq ft, stretching from the middle commons to the area south and east of Chestnut Lodge. In addition, 8,000 sq ft of currently wooded space would be preserved. We envision paths and benches in part of these wooded areas. The spring that runs next to the Lord Apartments could be an attractive water feature, similar to a small stream.
Meeting rooms: Generous meeting space would be provided, equivalent to the MRA’s current model. The meeting spaces would be more flexible: some are embedded in the lodges and several are accessible independently. Three meeting rooms would be surrounded by natural green spaces (see images below). The common spaces outdoors would also accommodate many small and large outdoor meetings. Finally, the four buildings would have ample covered porches, furnished in an attractive manner that facilitates informal meetings and gatherings.
Parking: Because the renovated lodges do not add bedrooms, the zoning ordinance requires fewer new parking spaces. We are presenting the MRA with specific ideas that would fully satisfy these requirements. This would not include a parking garage.
The advantages of this model are many:
This approach honors history by preserving the oldest home in Montreat, where the Presbyterian Church started in Montreat.
The overall look, size and character of the four buildings are much more suited to the area.
It retains the affordable lodges for visitors (especially Chestnut), thus keeping Montreat open to all, including small churches.
Preserves a “Montreat, mountain feel” in the varied lodges, avoiding a generic, modern hotel-room feel.
Avoids deep drilling into rock for the MRA’s intended underground parking garage.
Environmental risks are significantly reduced: most trees would be preserved, ensuring shade and reducing erosion. Less drilling minimizes risk of damage to Flat Creek during construction.
Mitigates impact on community: less drilling, more tree canopy, dispersed traffic flow.
Work could be phased in, adding elements in sequence.
Estimated construction costs are half that of the MRA model.
In short: The size and character of the buildings; the ample, inviting green spaces; the preservation of historic lodges – this model meets the MRA’s stated needs while offering Montreat an exciting vision that could bring together the community in widespread support.
The box below sets out two alternatives: a large and a moderate version of this village concept. The moderate version would reduce the new lodge by 2 bedrooms and one meeting room, preserving more trees and wooded area; and would add 5 rather than 9 bedrooms to Galax, leaving more outdoor commons space. Some members of the community prefer the moderate version; this chart allows discussion and comparison of both. The above Site Plan shows the footprint of the larger version.
How did the MRA respond?
The above proposal was shared with the MRA in July. They responded several weeks later by saying that they would not move away from their original plan. In their response, they made no analysis of any of the benefits of the Village Concept, and refused to discuss any version of it further.
The MRA stated that their 40,000-square-foot structure provides better “community fit and compatibility” for Montreat. We could not disagree more strongly. In addition:
A number of the key claims on which they base their objections, specifically regarding construction and parking requirements, do not appear to be correct based on our recent consultations with Montreat officials.
Two (and perhaps three) of the properties slated to be torn down qualify for designation as local historic landmarks. This would allow variance in rehabilitation requirements. The MRA has repeatedly stated that they are not interested in the historic value of these properties, and they have given no attention to the possibilities that such historic preservation could provide.
The MRA’s architecture firm, Samsel Architects, seems to have gone out of their way to frame the Village Concept in the most negative possible light. Regrettably, as many have noted, this was not a neutral assessment.
If the MRA is serious, they would allow a truly independent assessment that considers how an alternative might be crafted that would carry the support of the community. We stand by our proposal.
This is an ongoing community effort. Feedback is welcome at email@example.com.